One of the main messages in The Great Gatsby is that we can never go back to the way things were in the past, no matter how much we may yearn to. After fighting in the Great War (World War I), for example, Nick feels that he cannot really be...
One of the main messages in The Great Gatsby is that we can never go back to the way things were in the past, no matter how much we may yearn to. After fighting in the Great War (World War I), for example, Nick feels that he cannot really be happy at home anymore:
Instead of being the warm center of the world the middle-west now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe,
Home is simply not as satisfying or fulfilling as it once was, and so Nick decides to move to the East Coast in the hopes that he will find something to do to cure his "restless[ness]." Ultimately, however, his experiences in this new place only make him feel worse about humanity, particularly people like Tom and Daisy Buchanan.
While living on the East Coast, Nick meets Jay Gatsby, a man who is certain that it's possible to repeat and reclaim the past. In fact, much of Gatsby's efforts in life are premised on the idea that with enough wealth and resources, it's possible for him pick a happier time from the past and return to it. Specifically, Gatsby wants to reclaim Daisy Buchanan, whom he was romantically involved with in his youth. Not rich or respectable enough to marry the wealthy debutante at the time, young Gatsby lied about his background in order to woo her and then left to fight in the war and make his fortune. Years later, having finally achieved the immense wealth he dreamed of, Gatsby assumes he and Daisy will simply resume their love affair right where they left off.
When Nick tells him such a thing is not possible in regard to Daisy (who has lived through the war, gotten married, and had a child since she last saw Gatsby), Gatsby responds with, "Why of course you can!" He says that he is "going to fix everything just the way it was before." Of course, this proves impossible, and while Daisy is still drawn to Gatsby and has an affair with him, she is ultimately unwilling to uproot her life by leaving her husband, Tom. Driven by his unassailable confidence and optimism, Gatsby fails to understand that we become different people with different circumstances as time passes and we gain experience; we cannot just return to who we were when we were younger and more innocent. Once those times are lost, they are lost forever.